A Siesta is not a Bad Idea! An argument for a Midday Break

We Can All Learn From the Siesta—Breaks Make Us More Productive!

When the pandemic first began, I remember seeing all of these videos circulating where you could explore the Lourve, or walk down the cobblestone alleyways in Italy, or tour Britain’s medieval castles, all from the comfort of your couch! This was a novel escape while we were all experiencing lockdowns at home, even if it paled in comparison to the real thing. And besides, I had my own destination to reminisce about … 

The travel place I like to return to again and again in my mind is a trip I took to Greece with my mother in 2015. It was a magical holiday with wonderful company, amazing sights, and one where I could truly take a break. On that vacation, I had taken great pains to have “I’m on vacation”  messages set up on different accounts. I was alerting people as to whom they could contact in my absence, having one account managed by an assistant, and then setting up the emails to automatically go into my trash so that I could come back and start fresh. I wanted to come home with my energized mind raring to go on new projects and ideas, rather than sifting through old emails. 

I recall one sleepy, peaceful afternoon where I had a solitary walk along a narrow, alley-like street in Tinos. I hadn’t realized that it was their siesta time at first, but how I enjoyed bF392CF22-D12E-460C-B50D-EB41A07FA5EEeing one of the only people wandering the street, soaking up the stillness! We became more familiar with the Greek’s pattern of working in the morning, taking a three-hour siesta to rest during the heat of the day, and then coming back to work a few hours in the evening. That was how it was, and it was widely accepted! 

Greece is one of many countries that takes part in the afternoon rest period. While I can appreciate that we can’t all adopt this wonderful element into our own cultures, it certainly highlights how differently we view work, relaxation, and taking breaks in North America, where more than a third of employees rarely, or never, take lunch breaks!

What I really learned from this particular holiday was how important it is for all of us to see value in taking breaks and recharging during our workdays. We cannot always wait for lengthy holidays to recuperate, as these often only come around once or twice a year. Instead, we should be finding ways to incorporate breaks into our work lives daily, and strike a balance that helps us work well and live well!



Take Your Breaks

We all arrive at that place at some point during the day, when we know we just aren’t being productive. The words for that email aren’t coming easily, a certain task may feel like it is taking far too long, and your brain feels downright sluggish. 

But, we often keep at it because there’s so much to do! Deep down we believe that we’re only working hard if we continue to persevere, long after we are showing any positive signs of productivity. 

I certainly used to operate in this way (and sometimes that sentiment still sneaks up and tricks me!), but now I notice the signs of this slump much more rapidly, and recognize that it isn’t an indication that I’m lazy, or incapable, or not going to finish my work today. But rather, it’s just so obviously SIESTA TIME! (and I say that to mean quite literally “nap time,” but also just… break time). 

Whether we are “morning larks” or “night owls,” most of us naturally fall into a midday slump if we’re working around a 9-5 (ish) schedule. 

We may have an energy “dip” in the afternoon due to (for instance): 

  • Sleepiness after a meal 
  • Caffeine “crashes” from morning coffee 
  • Normal fluctuations in the hormone cortisol  
  • Afternoon heat if we are in a hot season or climate 
  • General overwhelm or stress 

Whether your break is a short siesta to recharge, a solid 1-hour lunch break where you might go for a walk, or a series of microbreaks, the main thing is that you see these breaks as being very beneficial, and not something to skip! 

Don’t Feel Guilty For Disconnecting

People used to take real vacations. Pre-pandemic, pre-iPhones and laptops, there were those vacations where you actually took a break from all of it! I was someone who did that. I’d go for 2-3 weeks somewhere with no phone or email. Doing this nowadays, you have to be incredibly purposeful and clear about your boundaries, and this level of disconnection is out of the ordinary. 

When I took that vacation to Greece, I was hiking with my mother up the steps to see the Acropolis. We were taking pictures and marvelling at how this place was the birthplace of so many things, like democracy and the Olympics. There was a man behind me checking his emails. He was talking to his friend about the work that he’d carried with him to this spectacular spot. His friend said, “I can’t believe you’re checking your emails!” to which the man replied, “I have to. Otherwise, I’ll come home to 4000 of them!”

How unfortunate, I thought, that he wasn’t able to truly just be in this incredible place. But, I also recognized the thought process of not wanting to get behind…after all, the last thing you want is to come back from a refreshing vacation to the overwhelm of sifting through thousands of messages. 

What I’d like to see far more of in our workplaces is people giving themselves permission to disconnect, and take that break and NOT feel guilty or fearful that they will be overwhelmed as a result of resting for a little bit. Long, restful vacations are necessary, but we can also look forward to a set “rest” each and every afternoon to keep us refreshed and highly productive during optimal times. 

Not All Breaks Are Created Equal

There is a well-known study that was conducted in 2011 that is often referred to when discussing the implications of taking breaks at work. It was found that judges tended to be considerably more lenient with granting parole for prisoners earlier in the day, or after taking a break. It was found that “the likelihood of a favourable ruling peaked at the beginning of the day, steadily declining over time from a probability of about 65% to nearly zero, before spiking back up to about 65% after a break for a meal or snack.” In the morning when we are fresh at work, our decision-making may be quite different than 5 hours later if we’ve been sitting and staring at a computer, or having to make a series of decisions back-to-back which can lead to decision fatigue. Our mood is likely to be impacted, too. 

When you feel the need (or schedule that time) to take a break, make sure it’s going to be one that has the effect you want it to. You may be tempted to take 15 minutes for a “break” to scroll through social media. However, we know that activities like social media can actually increase levels of stress

Try these, instead: 

Have a nap – research shows that midday naps can improve cognitive performance and help you feel more refreshed and energetic. According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, people who took a 30-minute nap are more likely to stay more alert. So, embrace the siesta if you can! I know some workplaces that now have “quiet rooms” where people can go to meditate or actually lie down for a short nap. These organizations know that this rest allows their employee to be more productive afterward. 

Take a walk – movement really helps with our creative thinking abilities. A study from Stanford University revealed that when people tackled mental tasks that required their imagination, walking led to considerably more creative thinking than sitting did. The study also revealed that the creativity boost lingered after those that were walking, sat down — this is great news for anyone who takes walking breaks instead of coffee breaks and then heads back to their desk!

If your office (or home office) has access to gym equipment, the afternoon can be an amazing time to get your workout in, too. During lockdowns, I would frequently use my home gym at lunchtime, and always felt such a difference in my creativity and energy levels in the afternoon. 

Meditate – find a quiet space and take a short meditation break during these recommended times of day (first thing in the morning, when you feel stressed, during your lunch hour, at the end of your workday). 

Fit in “microbreaks” – these are very brief distractions that can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes (such as making a quick cup of tea, listening to a song, or stretching) and they are found to have a powerful impact on improving workers’ stress levels, keeping employees feeling engaged, and making work more enjoyable

Next time you consider whether or not you should take some time to do something differently, just consider all of the benefits!

Structure Your Day  

Given recent world events, work schedules have changed for a lot of us. If you are working from home at least part-time, you may have much more flexibility, so really think about work patterns that help be most productive so that you are stopping work on time and have your evenings free. 

Some other things you can do to break up the day, improve focus and be more productive, are:  

  • Doing the most intensive tasks during the time of day when you have the most energy 
  • Using lunch hours to exercise
  • Watch your caffeine intake 
  • Leave all screens alone a couple of hours before bed to help you sleep 

Giving our brains little daily breaks, and disconnecting completely at times can work wonders for our mood and productivity. All the research tells us that individuals who take breaks experience increased productivity, improved mental well-being, and get a creativity boost that can help you develop new perspectives on challenging projects or tasks. 

For the record, I wholeheartedly recommend the long vacation-type breaks, too–those 2-3 week vacations where you completely disconnect from work. Occasionally we just need to stop, slow down, work less, breathe more, step away, reflect and come out the other side rested, with more attention, creativity, proactivity, and possibility!

But in the meantime, when you can’t travel to Santorini, don’t feel guilty about your breaks! They are playing a very active role in your health, well-being, energy and creativity.

If you want to learn more about how to improve your work-life balance and reap the benefits of improved workplace or team culture, send me a message, and we can get started. Or join our Leading A Better Place To Work course to begin your journey to a more flourishing workplace. Check it out here: https://deborahconnors.com/leading-a-better-place-to-work/

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Image via Simon Infanger on Unsplash.


Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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